Not too long ago, teaching English meant carrying coursebooks from class to class and piles upon piles of paper. Times have changed. As video conferencing technologies advanced, the idea of teaching English online came to seem more realistic. Students in far-flung destinations began taking advantage of Skype, Zoom and other platforms to access quality online English lessons which might not otherwise have been available. Bit by bit, students around the world began to appreciate the convenience of virtual classes, until the unwelcome arrival of Covid-19 thrust online teaching firmly into the mainstream.
Navigating the world of online teaching in the current climate can be a real challenge. Any teacher who has looked for online work will know that there is a plethora of different options – from conversation to exam preparation, from great pay to no way. You would be forgiven for throwing up your hands and giving up entirely, but we’re here to help you make sense of this sometimes confusing space, and to take advantage of the many benefits teaching online has to offer. Once you’ve begun to develop your niche within this brave new world, you’ll see that it’s well worth the effort.
As every teacher knows, our students are individuals with their own complex needs and expectations. This is reflected in the wide variety of online teaching routes available to the EFL teacher. On top of this, location is no longer such a crucial factor, and – time zone permitting – teachers can work with students from all over the world. The positive in all of this is that there’s bound to be something for everyone – it’s just a case of identifying the right fit for you.
So, which online teaching path should you follow? What’s your niche in this huge market, and how can you best exploit it? Read on to find out!
First Things First
If you want to make a success of online teaching, there are some basics that you’ll need to think about. You can read more about the considerations when you’re starting out as an online teacher here. As a minimum, you’ll need:
- Cambridge CELTA or equivalent – this qualification is recognised worldwide and required by about 75% of employers in the field.
- A good internet connection – a minimum upload and download speed of 4Mbps is recommended, you can test this here.
- A computer or laptop with a good webcam and microphone (find out what other hardware and software you may need here).
With all of the above, it’s perfectly possible to find well-paid, rewarding online work. However, some employers may have additional requirements. These could include:
- A university degree
- A criminal background check (this is a requirement for working with under-18s in some countries)
- A certain nationality
- Teaching experience
Again, don’t be discouraged if you lack one or more of these additional requirements: you can still identify your niche and find an online teaching position that works for you.
Online teaching companies
For most teachers, the best way to start working online will be to apply for an online teaching company. These will provide you with students and offer lesson planning guidelines, letting you cut your teeth in the world of online teaching without doing all of the legwork.
One disadvantage is that the pay – especially for inexperienced teachers – tends to be rather low. Non-native speakers, teachers not from majority Anglophone countries, and those without a Bachelor’s degree may also find that they are ineligible to apply with some of the biggest companies. Don’t despair however! With a little research and persistence, all qualified teachers can find an online teaching role.
In recent months, there has been an explosion in the number of online teaching companies, and it can be tricky to decide which you want to apply for. Here are some factors to consider when looking for your first online role:
- Where are the students based? Will the classes be convenient in your timezone?
- Are you prepared to teach children? A majority of online teaching companies offer mostly or exclusively young learner classes. A workshop or Teacher Development Course may be a good idea to increase your confidence in this area and boost your employability.
- Is any lesson planning required? The answer to this question will dictate how many teaching hours you can comfortably take on.
- Does the company accept non-native applicants? Some of the biggest ones that do include Palfish, Preply, Cambly and Learnlight.
It’s advisable to read online reviews of any online teaching company you consider applying for – hearing what teachers and students have to say will really give you an idea about its ethos and working atmosphere. In addition to that, it will also provide an indication of more pragmatic considerations such as conditions and pay. All of this can guide you in your decision making, and it’s well worth spending some time on your research at this stage. You might also want to consider working for more than one company at first as this will allow you to divide the risk and increase your income.
As with any teaching job, it’s important to consider your application carefully. Oxford TEFL Careers Advisor Justin McCarty says:
‘The most important factor is creating a well-presented, up-to-date TEFL CV. I recommend using Canva for a clean, modern format which you can easily update as you gain experience. Make sure your most relevant qualifications and experience are displayed prominently, and that phrasing is clear and consistent. The best CVs show at a glance that the candidate is suitable for the role.’
Once you have found an online position and settled into a routine, it’s time to begin reflecting. What aspects of online teaching are you enjoying? What positive feedback have your students and employers given you? What kind of classes seem to go especially well? Thinking about these questions will help you identify your strengths and build your niche as you move to the next stage.
Play to your strengths
As your online teaching career develops, it’s advisable to think about specialising. Private students with a specific aim in mind will often seek out specialist teachers in this area, and online teaching companies generally pay more for these classes than for General English. Some areas you could consider are:
- Cambridge Exam Preparation
- English for Academic Purposes
- Business English
- Teaching Young Learners
When choosing a specialisation, consider your interests and background. If you’re a natural with kids, Teaching English online to Young Learners is probably right for you; if you have experience in the corporate world, perhaps Business English is your niche. Consider taking a Teacher Development course. This will allow you to build your skills and confidence, while demonstrating to potential employers that you are qualified in and dedicated to your chosen area. Oxford TEFL offers a range of flexible, 30-hour courses which are led by our expert tutors and provide personalised support in the area of your choosing. More information about how these courses can help you boost your skills and employability is available here.
Go it alone
When you have been working for one or more online teaching companies for a while, you may begin to think about going freelance. This option generally pays better, and will allow you to focus more on the niche you’ve been carving out for yourself. You will also have more freedom to plan lessons as you choose, without worrying about any guidelines your company has. This freedom also extends to your schedule – freelance teachers can work whenever suits them and their students best. Hate that Monday morning class? Perhaps now you can ditch it. Night owl? Timetable your lessons later in the day.
There are other considerations however. Key among these is where and how to promote yourself. You’ll need to think about:
- Target students: which type of classes are most in at the moment? What trends have you noticed while working for your online company?
- Where do potential students spend time online, and how can you reach them there?
- The niche you’ve developed: how can you effectively demonstrate your skills and experience?
- Pricing: what’s a fair price for you and your students, what variables might affect this?
Therefore, it’s likely that you’ll need to spend some time experimenting with different approaches to marketing – exploring social media, teaching websites, word of mouth and other avenues until you find the right fit for the services you’re offering. During this time, you may wish to continue teaching at least some hours for your online teaching company. This will provide you with a base income while you work on building your client base.
Experienced online teachers may come to feel that they can generate additional income from activities other than teaching English online. EFL YouTube channels are increasingly popular (check out Oxford TEFL’s here) and the best subscribed examples may prove quite lucrative for those who run them. You might also consider taking an additional qualification such as the Trinity DipTESOL. This could be a stepping stone to tutoring, developing course content, coaching and many other exciting career developments.
These opportunities won’t present themselves overnight – listen to feedback from your students and peers to identify when the moment might be right to diversify. Thinking about your long-term goals will help you to make the right decisions for your and your online teaching career as you work to grow and develop.
Some final thoughts
In sum up, such as we all hope for daily life to return to normal as soon as possible, it’s clear that online teaching is here to stay. Just as some students much prefer in-person lessons, others can’t and won’t say goodbye to the flexibility and convenience of learning in front of a screen. Having adapted as best we could during the lockdown, now is the time to build our skills and ensure that online or offline, our industry maintains the high standards we’re so proud of.
On a practical level, online teaching provides earning opportunities for teachers with all levels of experience and these are only likely to grow as time goes on. By finding a niche and putting in the hard work we are well-known for, TEFL teachers can enjoy the benefits and rewards of teaching which hopefully inspired them to enter the profession in the first place.
Ready? Find your niche and unlock the door to more specialised areas of ELT!
If you ready to start a new career teaching English as a foreign language, find out more about our highly-rated 100% Online CELTA course here.
If you would like to build your skills and confidence as an online teacher, read about our practical 30-hour Teaching English Online course with expert tutor support here.
If you would like to delve into a niche, find out more about our other 30-hour one-to-one Teacher Development Courses with expert tutor support here.